PHOTO COURTESY: SARAH BRADLEY
The newborn phase is a sweet one, with a lot of benefits (plenty of naps, no tantrums, that one-of-a-kind baby smell). It’s also my least favourite stage of parenting. I deeply love all three of my children, but I hated the first three months.
I’m a cookie-cutter type A person. I’m organized, routine oriented and methodical. Pre-baby, I drafted plans for the nursery—everything from the budget to the paint colour. My shower registry was a carefully curated list of items selected after hours of extensive product reviews and consumer-report research. For someone like me, bringing home an eight-pound enigma was the ultimate test of my sanity.
In those first hazy days of parenting, I didn’t know anything, except that I was supposed to keep my son happy. The ambiguity in doing so was nerve-wracking. “Happy” was relative and subject to change. Things that worked one day (putting him down for a nap in the swing, making a particular shushing noise, taking him for a drive) wouldn’t work the next day. Instead, I would be met with long bouts of red-faced screaming.
My son didn’t care about the schedule recommended in the baby books. He didn’t care how long it had been since he last ate. He didn’t care that I had just fallen asleep, sat down to eat or stepped into the shower. Obviously, I didn’t expect him to, but actually living that mercurial reality, day after day for months on end, was a shock to my system. As someone who prided herself on a high output of organized productivity, I was dumbfounded by my inability to accomplish anything. I was busy all day but had nothing to show for it.
My husband didn’t struggle in the same way. Faced with a challenge or an unpredictable outcome, he would just shrug his shoulders and say “It’ll be fine” while I hyperventilated over the absolute worst-case scenario. Anxiety set in whenever the schedule was thrown off course and, with a newborn, that was basically all the time. A diaper blowout that required a bath and a full change of clothes would instantly make me feel defeated and overwhelmed. Now we’re late. He’ll be hungry again as soon as we get there and I’ll have to feed him in the car. That will make us even later. Should we even bother to go at all?
The unpredictability of life with a newborn left me tense, irritable and reluctant to plan anything—if the plan had to change, I would end up miserable. I also felt completely alone—like I was the only one experiencing parenthood this way. My husband thought everything would be fine, and none of my mom friends ever admitted to having similar feelings. Through all of my pregnancy, it seemed like I had only been told how wonderful motherhood was and how blissfully happy I would be after the baby came.
Why wasn’t motherhood like that for me? Was I doing something wrong? After weeks of frustration, I finally told my mom how unhappy I was. I loved my son, but the day-to-day reality of parenting was making it hard to enjoy him. To my surprise, she was quick to sympathize. “I was never a fan of the newborn phase,” she said. “I didn’t want to wish away your childhoods, but I always looked forward to having older babies.”
I immediately started to feel better. Maybe I wasn’t a terrible mother. Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for this particular stage of motherhood. After all, there are so many phases: the three-naps-a-day phase, the wobbly learning-to-walk phase, the obsessed-with-dinosaurs phase. Newborn to toddler, preschooler to middle schooler, tween to teenager. Kids are always changing—it’s the only reliable part of parenting. If you hate one phase, it doesn’t really matter—it will be over before you know it. Understanding this brought some relief because I realized that it wouldn’t always be this way. I wouldn’t have a newborn forever; soon enough, I’d find some enjoyment in motherhood.
But, of course, I had to make it through the newborn phase first. It wasn’t easy. Having a type A personality made appreciating the small, quiet moments of new babyhood difficult. I struggled to be present during all those breastfeedings and late-night rocking sessions because I was impatiently waiting for the day when I could be more productive, doing something as simple as showering for longer than 30 seconds while my son rolled around happily on the floor. I couldn’t wait for the day when we would both be more independent.
I never really learned to appreciate the newborn phase with my first son. He was three months old by the time I figured out that one of the secrets to happy parenting is letting go of any expectation of predictability. But when I had my second and third sons, I had a new perspective on parenting that made those newborn days easier.
The moments that a mother shares with her new baby are fleeting. It’s called a phase for a reason: It passes quickly, often without warning. Because I knew it wouldn’t last forever, I tried to appreciate the newborn interactions with my younger sons—locking eyes over a diaper change, feeling the weight of their sleeping heads on my chest, holding onto their tiny fingers during a breastfeeding—while also looking forward to the future. I knew from experience that there would be plenty of time to do things—this was the time to just be.
In those truly challenging moments (when the baby skipped a nap, woke endlessly at night to feed or refused to be put down for an entire afternoon), I reminded myself that it would be over soon. This moment didn’t represent all of motherhood, and my response to it didn’t determine the kind of mother I was. Remembering that and allowing myself to dislike the newborn phase without self-criticism and judgment made it just a little bit easier to survive.
This article was originally published online in May 2018.